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'Truth By Repetition': The Evolution Of Political Mudslinging

Posted: December 29, 2012

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Two former reporters are now making a living digging up dirt on political candidates. They help their clients find obscured truths on their competition — and on themselves. While name-calling isn't new, there are more ways to spread a damaging message. But as this election showed, that message isn't always factually based.

Opponents demonstrate against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling at the Lincoln Memorial in October. The decision changed campaigning, but it apparently didn't make ads more fact-based.

Opponents demonstrate against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling at the Lincoln Memorial in October. The decision changed campaigning, but it apparently didn't make ads more fact-based. Chip Somodevilla

There's always name-calling in national elections, but now there are more ways to get the message out, says political opposition researcher Michael Rejebian. During the past election, he says, the dirt was just flying more often.

Rejebian and Alan Huffman — both former investigative reporters — dig up background on their clients' opponents. While their currency is facts, many of the political attacks this election cycle were doling out something different.

"A lot of the attacks were fact-based, but I feel like facts are more often a supporting actor, if they appear at all," Huffman tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "And what really resonates on the Internet or in an ad is more important than whether or not they're factually based."

In their work, Rejebian and Huffman also look for potentially harmful information about their own clients to prepare them for what's out there, as they said on weekends on All Things Considered in March. They tell Lyden they're still amazed at what candidates assume won't be discovered about themselves.

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision certainly had an impact on campaigning, particularly in advertising, Huffman says, but it wasn't exactly a boon to those in the field of fact-based background research.

"I think it is going to be more difficult to sort of wedge the truth, based on documentation, into the campaign when you've got huge amounts of money that can just sort of create truth by repetition," Huffman says. "So, in a sense ... it's just about the evolution of opposition research, and it's really not clear yet where it's going."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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